Band tries to heal Kashmir wounds with rock music
12 August 2007
Srinagar: The sound of a new rock band is soothing Kashmir which has been blighted by years of violence and a ban on entertainment by separatist Muslim guerrillas. In a region where the boom of guns and bombs has drowned out all sounds for almost 20 years, a cacophony of melodies from guitar, drums and electric keyboards is now sweeping Kashmir's war-weary youngsters with a message of love and peace. 'Immersion', a five-member rock band that also includes a woman, says the purpose of its music is to try to erase the scars and trauma of young Kashmiris. 'They have suffered a lot and they are hungry for entertainment,' Amit Wanchoo, the band's 28-year-old lyricist, told Reuters. 'We are trying to heal their wounds.' Every word of pain and sufferring Wanchoo pens is dipped in the blood of his own family - his grandfather, a prominent social worker, was shot dead by separatist militants in 1992. The revolt has killed tens of thousands of people since 1989 and rape and torture have become a way of life. Any distraction from the violence was blocked by a separatist ban on cinema, music and concerts in a region with great natural beauty that once provided romantic settings for Bollywood films. But with time, the militants' hold over daily life has lifted, a single cinema has reopened, traditional theatre and music are being revived and alcohol is available in a few shops. 'There was no source of entertainment, so we decided to form a music group which will entertain youth who grew up with violence,' said keyboard player Bilal Matta. The band, which began performing last year, says initially it faced threats, but accompanying a fall in violence now more people attend their shows. Last month, hundreds of Kashmiri youths swayed to the band's music. One of the songs said: 'We pray to God for a soothing rain of happiness.' Overall violence has ebbed in Kashmir since India and Pakistan, which claim the region in full and rule in parts, began a peace process in 2004, officials say. However, people are still killed in daily firefights and occasional attacks by suspected militants. Encouraged by the response, the multi-lingual band - which performs in English, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi - hopes to turn professional soon. The band members now hold shows in between doing odd jobs. 'They can mesmerise everyone, the whole audience listens to their music with rapt attention,' Mohammad Saqlain, an 'Immersion' fan, said. The band, its members mostly dressed in jeans, T-shirts and overcoats, performs for NGOs, government agencies and charities. Only recently they began paid shows. 'We have also organised concerts to entertain and help orphans, the poor and the ailing,' said Mahmmeet Syed, the band's only female singer. Saying that they are 'aiming very high', King Paul, the lead guitarist, strings his instrument before strumming to his favourite song - 'Will change the picture of the world, we the youngsters of Kashmir.'